Public Lives/Private Platform: The Politics of Twitter

23May2017 24May2017


Call for Proposals NICA/ASCA Symposium organized by Jacopo Fiorancio, Nadia de Vries and Matt Cornell, 23-24 May 2017.

Speaking in 2013, Dick Costolo, then CEO of Twitter envisioned the site as “a very public, live, in-the-moment conversational platform” describing it as the “global town square.” With this concept, Costolo imagined the site’s users as producers, consumers and citizens participating in a digital commons. In the years that followed, Twitter drew criticism for its free speech absolutism, which while providing a space for marginalized voices, also left those populations vulnerable to harassment and abuse. In the aftermath of the Gamergate controversy, Twitter made small steps toward addressing abuse, giving users new tools to protect themselves. However, their commitment to free speech has created ever greater tensions within a virtual town square that replicates disparities in local, national and global power relations.

Twitter is at once the soapbox of the powerless and the platform of the powerful. It is the megaphone of the voiceless and an echo chamber for state and corporate speech. For instance, while Twitter has helped launch vital grassroots social movements like Black Lives Matter, it has also fomented the rise of the alt-right and the emergence of the world’s first Twitter President, who uses the microblog as a bully pulpit and policy platform. While it has suspended ISIS-affiliated accounts, it has verified those of high profile white nationalists. While it has given space to anonymous activists around the world, it has given new tools of surveillance to the states they agitate within and against. This crowded town square is moderated by complex algorithms, contradictory policies and competing regimes of public and private censorship.

How does Twitter’s shared town square invite us to rethink the theoretical and practical limits of free speech? Where is the potential for social and political change in a space that is at once public and privatised, civic and commercial? What can we do to help defend the space claimed by those most marginalized within this public square, alongside their more powerful antagonists?

These questions about the political life of Twitter affect every message that circulates within the square. Its 140 character limit has led to a seemingly infinite variety of expressive styles and forms of communication. Every few hours, thousands of hashtags rise and fall, trolls provoke, Trump boasts and bots tell jokes while corporate drones perform customer service before a global audience of millions. Amid the din, people make real connections, plant the seeds of social movements, supplement (and contradict) the official news, and build communities of support that extend beyond digital limits.

We call for researchers, artists and activists to reflect on how Twitter has expanded, complicated and advanced the concept of free speech. We are especially interested in explorations of Twitter’s potential as a site for social change, and of the unique forms of political and cultural expression that this space makes possible.

Public Lives/Private Platform: The Politics of Twitter

University of Amsterdam
Oudemanhuispoort 4-6
1012 CN Amsterdam

Tuesday, May 23

Room F 0.01

14:30-15:00 Welcome and Opening Remarks
15:00-17:00 Panel A - Raised Voices
17:00-17:15 Break
17:15-18:00 “Islamophobia, #NoBanNoWallNoRaids & Resistance”- Imraan Siddiqi & Arjun Sethi (Skype)
18:00-18:30 Drinks
18:30-19:30 “The #Dipsaus Origin Story: From Margins to Mainstream”- Ebissé Rouw & Mariam El Maslouhi in conversation with Nina Köll

Wednesday, May 24

Room C 0.17

9:30-11:30 Panel B - Conflicting Timelines
11:30-11:45 Break
11:45-12:45 “Talking to Bots, Talking Through Bots”- Nora Reed (Skype)
12:45-14:00 Lunch

Room C 2.17

14:00-14:45 “Our Collective Unconscious of Violence”- Flavia Dzodan
14:45-15:30 “Why Do I Have 20 Twitter Accounts?”- Cyrus Eosphoros (Skype)
15:30-15:45 Break
15:45-17:45 Panel C - Beyond Twitter
17:45-18:00 Break
18:00-19:00 Keynote: “#hashtag: The History and Pitfalls of Aggregated Conversations”- Jillian York
19:00-19:15 Closing Remarks


Lecture 23 May 17:00-19:00 Oudemanhuispoort, room A 0.08
Sessions 24 May: Oudemanhuispoort 9.00 – 13.00 room C 0.17; 9.00 – 18.00 – room E 0.12; 14.00 – 19.00 uur room C 2.17 

More info on and on Twitter @plpp_

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Published by  ASCA